Looking Up

A few days ago—maybe weeks—I posted on discovering David J. Halperin’s website.  His book, Intimate Alien: The Hidden Story of the UFO, had been on my reading list since it came out.  Like Diana Pasulka and Jeffrey Kripal, Halperin is a religion scholar exploring UFOs.  “In its essence,” he writes, “the UFO is a religious phenomenon.”  I would tend to agree although Halperin holds a somewhat different interpretation than many ufologists do.  Noting the deep, Jungian connections with such archetypes as quaternaries, and the profound experiences of death and sex, Halperin builds a case for UFOs as a modern myth.  Myth in the sense that we religion scholars use it, that is.  Myth is not a falsehood, but its exact opposite.  Myth is truth expressed in ways that aren’t, and can’t be, literal.

Using this impressive interpretive matrix he considers some of the classic—and a few novel—cases such as the Socorro, New Mexico case and Roswell.  He traces the phenomenon to its modern beginnings in 1947, but interestingly for a biblical scholar, considers seriously what Ezekiel might have seen.  Here the quaternaries come in quite helpful.  He spends considerable time on the abduction phenomenon, exploring what needs such stories might meet.  Many of them involve individuals in unusual social circumstances and that adds credence to his interpretative model.  He also considers the adjunct Men in Black.  I had been unaware of the Shaver Mystery until reading this book.  He ends by considering John Lennon’s famous New York UFO sighting.

Halperin offers a non-dismissive paradigm that allows for a high degree of rationalism.  Since I’ve suggested elsewhere on this blog that the paranormal is kin to religious studies, I’m always glad to see some validation of this when someone publishes a successful book on the subject.  Outrè topics, if they’re to be considered at all, fall within the open borders of religious studies.  Ironically perhaps the most human of the humanities, it is a field rife with unusual experiences that sometimes lie beyond the reach of empirical measure.  UFOs represent the problem of occasional phenomena.  You can’t get them into the laboratory and they aren’t repeatable.  How are we to study them?  Since several military organizations, including the US Navy, are now taking the subject seriously, it would seem that academic fields should follow.  Most don’t, or won’t.  Religious studies is braver, it seems to me, than many disciplines.  It takes on the unusual and tries to find respectful ways to understand what it finds.


Aging Goddesses

While not a woman, I am over fifty and I have both a personal and professional interest in goddesses.  Some friends recently asked how I came to write a dissertation on a goddess, and thinking about that has revealed some aspects about my outlook, but those will need to wait a little.  We read Goddesses in Older Women by Jean Shinoda Bolen because my wife wanted my opinion on it.  We read books together while washing dishes—we’ve been doing this since we married over thirty years ago—and despite my not requiring the subtitle, Becoming a Juicy Crone, I was game.  I have been curious about the experience of others since I was quite young.  Since half the others in the world are female, it makes sense to be in dialogue and to be willing to learn.

Bolen uses classical goddesses as Jungian archetypes to help post-menopausal women sort out their feelings and spirituality in what has been called the “crone” phase of life.  This is part of an antique triad that many would rather dismiss: virgin, mother, crone.  Still, Bolen embraces it as fairly common in women’s experience.  Men, although they can be elected to the White House while doddering old fools, don’t pass through such distinctive stages.  In fact, some never mature.  Women’s lives are defined by reproductive capabilities in ways men’s simply aren’t.  Instead of dismissing half of human experience as irrelevant, we should listen to the accumulated wisdom of women.  Bolen, who is an M.D., isn’t an historian of religion, but her remarks about the various goddesses explored (Asherah isn’t one of them) are insightful.  I listened as my wife read, and this was quite a learning experience.

We have, as a species, often failed our females.  Males, using that “might makes right” physiology and theology, have often assumed masculine agendas are the only ones that matter.  Look around the world today and see where that’s gotten us.  We’re killing our own planet in the name of greed and ignorance just so that nobody can be richer than me.  I think it’s time we let the women have a chance to run things.  Even though ancient mythologies often reflect the patriarchies under which they were written, many allow women more powerful and authentic roles than they currently have.  Even El, the head of the Ugaritic pantheon, could change his mind when approached by Asherah.  I learned much from this book, just as we learn so very much by listening to those who differ from ourselves.  And the goddesses, almost always, are the ones who possess true wisdom.